If you enjoy working with your hands and honoring traditions observed for millennia, fiber arts might be your calling. People of every era, location and demographic developed these crafts to create clothing, decoration, toys, blankets and other homey pieces. 

The fiber arts include a wide range of handicrafts and skill types. Some people focus on only one craft while others master several. With a little introductory information, you can pinpoint which types of fiber art appeal to you and get started! 

What Is Fiber Art?        

Sometimes called textile arts, fiber arts are as much about the materials and processes as the final products. 

The primary material is natural or synthetic fiber. Deriving from plants and animals, natural fibers include wool, silk, cotton, bamboo, angora and jute. Synthetic, manufactured fibers include nylon, polyester, latex, rayon and acrylic. Certain synthetic fibers also incorporate metals.    

Those source fibers, either on their own or blended, become yarn, thread, paper, rope, felt and other materials. The resulting fibrous materials, and the various methods that incorporate them, may be the most basic fiber art definition. 

What Does a Fiber Artist Do?

Fiber artists bring their materials together through specific methods to create a final product. While the final product is certainly important, the process of creating it is central to a fiber artist’s work. In fact, some might even tackle spinning thread or making their own paper!

Looking down at a handful of fiber being fed into a spinning wheel. You can also see the spinner’s feet controlling the wheel’s pedals.     
Spinning your own yarn begins with a handful of fiber and pedaling to keep the wheel spinning.  from Learn to Spin Yarn with a Spinning Wheel by Joyce Mynoush

Many fiber art projects are small in scale and completed by one artist. However, certain projects, such as large quilts, may include the work of many artists. Perhaps you’ve seen groups of women working on a marriage quilt in a historical film, or witnessed people you know collaborating on a Project Linus blanket. Turns out, fiber arts have long been a means of not only artistic connection, but also community building.   

Even better, fiber artists are taking care of their brains. According to the Mayo Clinic, crafts like knitting may help stave off cognitive decline

Types of Fiber Art

It would be impossible to list every single fiber art in one blog article. But understanding the more common ones may inspire you to explore further! 

Knitting 101

Using two large, long needles, knitters stitch yarn or thread together to create fabric. The stitches are organized into rows and, with the needles, looped through each other in a pattern for cozy blankets, toasty sweaters and an abundance of unique headwear options. 

Learning to knit requires a hands-on approach, as figuring it out from pictures and instructions can be incredibly difficult. For more advanced knitting techniques, you may find it helpful to watch someone else knit before you dive in. 

Knitting needles come in a range of sizes to accommodate different pattern requirements. 

Crochet for Beginners

Using yarn, threads or other strands, crochet interlocks loops with one crochet hook. This method is generally considered easier than knitting, so learning to crochet might be ideal if you’re a beginner wanting to make hats, scarves, blankets, and more. 

Like knitting needles, crochet hooks also come in a variety of sizes and lengths. 

Embroidery Keeps it Delicate

As a method for decorating fabric, the art of embroidery is typically delicate needlework. Embroiderers stitch thread over a drawn pattern, and sometimes include beads, sequins or other decorative pieces. 

Your possibilities with embroidery ideas are endless when it comes to subject and style. Once you know some essential embroidery knots and stitching techniques, you’ll be on your way.

Hang Out With Macramé

You’ve likely seen this in the form of a fiber art wall hanging or plant holder. Macramé is artfully knotting strong threads or cords in a pattern for decoration or function, such as an attractive holder for a hanging flower pot.  

Felting Is the Cutest

When wool, hair or similar fibers are interlocked and compressed they become a dense, matted fabric called felt. Felting is the process of making this unique fiber art material. You can learn to make felt with a wet or dry process, and create both flat and three dimensional pieces from the fabric (the latter being perfect for crafting felted creatures). 

Quaint Quilting

Although the quilting method works for clothing, bags, and other items, it’s most commonly associated with bedding. Whatever you’re making, quilting involves stitching together layers of fabric with padding between them. Decorative stitching separates the piece into sections to hold the padding in place. 

Quilts often use patchwork patterns, piecing together bits of different fabrics for the overall design. Patchwork is an especially fun way to learn to quilt.    

Weaving: Simple and Strong

Woven fabrics interlace two sets of fiber material—often thread, yarn or even plant fibers—at right angles. Remember those potholder looms you had as a kid, and the repetitive “over, under, over…” weaving instructions? Weaving is relatively simple but creates strong fabrics and vessels like bowls and baskets.  

Tapestry is a quickly recognized form of weaving seen in ancient Egyptian textiles, medieval European art and elsewhere. 

Apply an Appliqué

In French, appliqué literally means “applied.” As a fiber art, it’s about attaching small, decorative pieces to larger items. After learning appliqué techniques, you might add a fun patch to pants or an embroidered design to a bag. Another option is sewing beads or other decorative objects onto fabric.   

Rug Hooking for Cozy Floors

You can make a rug with a piece of rug warp (thick fabric with a sturdy structure), burlap, strips of wool or other fabric, and a latch hook. It’s a simple process of pulling the strips through the stiff fabric according to a pattern. 

Fun and Fancy Lace Making 

Traditionally, lace makers used linen or silk thread, though today’s lace is often made of cotton or synthetic fibers. Handmade lace comes in two main categories: bobbin lace and needle lace. Bobbin lace (similar to thread crochet) is easier to make, while needle lace is time consuming and highly delicate.  

Tatting, or frivolite, is a lesser known lace making method using specific knotting techniques.   

Braiding (Plaiting): Not Just for Hair

You might think of hairstyles when someone says braiding (also called plaiting), but fiber artists use braiding to intertwine three or more strands of fiber. The project can be as simple as a child’s friendship bracelet or as complex as intricate fabric braiding.  

Pretty Paper Making 

Did you know you can make your own paper at home from dryer lint? Paper making only requires a few everyday materials, including torn bits of used paper and lint. Add your own special touches by including seeds and dried flower petals in your paper making. These components are turned to a wet pulp and pressed into new sheets.  

While anything fibrous can get turned into paper, the final product may be more decorative than functional.  

Looking down at a wooden table top full with four small bowls of seeds and dried plant materials next to a large woven basket full of dried flower petals.   
Paper makers sometimes include seeds, dried flower petals and other plant materials in their art.  from Class Paper Making: Adding Seeds, Petals + Embossing by Open Hands Creative  

Fiber Arts Supplies

Depending on your chosen craft and artistic goals, the required fiber art supplies might be yarn and your hands or an entire, customized kit. 

For example, to make natural fiber wall art you might choose a single yarn macramé pattern. But if you want to craft a gorgeous set of embroidered appliqué pieces, you’re going to need fabric, multiple colors of thread, needles, beads, and anything else you want to add.

Fiber artists are ready tackle a few different types of fiber art with the following supplies (in a variety of sizes and colors):

  • Yarn
  • Thread
  • Fine rope
  • Sewing needles
  • Knitting needles
  • Crochet hooks 
  • Latch hooks
  • Felting needles
  • Fine fabrics (cotton, linen)
  • Stiff fabrics (burlap)
  • Fabric scraps
  • Embroidery hoop
  • Potholder loom
  • Scissors

If you’re especially serious about weaving, lace making or paper making, consider these more advanced (and expensive) tools:

  • Hand loom 
  • Lace pillow
  • Paper press

Fiber Arts: Honoring Traditions, Boosting Brains

The fiber arts are truly woven into human history, passing from artist to artist and evolving as skills and technologies advance. Observing them is, for many craftspeople, soothing, fun and a connection to people and cultures from the past. With the variety of fiber arts available, just about anyone can access materials and quickly get started. 

And remember—handicrafts are good for your brain. Find your favorite and get crafting! 

Written By
Katie Mitchell

Katie Mitchell

Katie lives in Michigan with her husband, kids and pets. She enjoys cooking, travel and live music.

  • Click here to share on Twitter
  • Click here to share on Facebook
  • Click here to share on LinkedIn
  • Click here to share on Pinterest